Friday, August 14, 2009

“Please do not park here again.”

With this pioneering blog post I’m going to feature a photograph taken by someone else. Though I haven’t been to this exact location, I have visited the city and I think many of us have witnessed this sort of predicament at some point. The photo was taken by Krzysztof Hanusiak in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

Trying to decipher it is akin to solving one of the logic questions one might see on a standardized test. I have blogged before on the artistry of on-street parking management in specific urban locations , and signage such as this suggests to me the accrual of multiple regulations applied over time. Here are my speculations:

  • The “No Parking Any Time” applies to every space meeting a certain condition, possibly to allow bus idling, or maybe there is a curb-cut out of sight from the camera that offers automobile access to the shopping plaza to the right.
  • The Tow Zone applies to another condition, possibly to eliminate loitering or trespassing in an area for which there is no reason cars should be parked at night.
  • The 7am to 9am restricts parking during what is apparently a morning routine, most likely truck merchandise unloading, though—at significantly lower frequency than daily—it could also allow for street cleaning.
  • The three hour restriction prevents certain visitors from monopolizing the on-street parking or from using the spaces as a car depository while they take care of business elsewhere in the city.

Clearly I could speculate on this until I’m blue in the face. Chances are these restrictions existed as separate legislative acts, applied methodically where the street and building conditions suited their respective restrictions. The reason behind the restrictions doesn’t really matter; what’s interesting is how they all come together at this precise location, like the fusion of multiple circles in a Venn diagram. The only problem is they don’t come together at all.

So who can park here? This much signage in aggregate has the effect of discouraging on-street parking altogether—not something you want to do in a suburb that generally favors the automobile but still accommodates the pedestrian better than the newer suburbs farther away from the city of Chicago. While the density is nowhere near as high as that of Chicago as a whole, the city represents a generally fluid transition in neighborhood vernacular from the comparatively middle class, white neighborhoods of northwest Chicago that abut Park Ridge to the south, such as Edison Park. While the homes in Park Ridge are somewhat newer and more opulent than in Edison Park, the transition between the two otherwise is seamless, with broad streets to accommodate on-street parking, moderate density (four to eight homes per acre), and a thoroughly developed network of sidewalks. The separation of uses afforded by Euclidean zoning is certainly greater here than older neighborhoods of Chicago where residential and commercial routinely occupy the same space; however, uses in Park Ridge are not so sequestered to prevent residents from walking brief distance to minor commercial options within a mile of their homes.

Thus, in some ways, Park Ridge found—perhaps quite unintentionally—a balance between cars and people suitable for a bedroom community. Most people will drive to get around, but, unlike outer suburbs such as Inverness or most of Schaumburg, that residents aren’t resigned to their cars if walking suits them. The presence of large, sprawling, off-street parking lots in Park Ridge is restrained enough to keep building density comparatively high. The availability of on-street parking, manifested by what this sign both allows and forbids, could easily offer a tipping point for such a suburb: destroying the culture of on-street parking would hardly turn people away from their cars to seek shopping by foot; instead, they would simply seek off-street parking and commercial areas that more readily allow parking without confusion or threat of a ticket. Park Ridge has a pedestrian friendly downtown and several retail clusters (such as the one in the picture) that still facilitate walking from one shop to another. It would be a shame if excessive regulation turned people off so that they sought strip malls elsewhere simply to avoid the hassle of making sense of these ridiculous street signs.

At this point it might seem easy to ask, “You get all of this from a single photograph?” It probably is a stretch on my part, but I am convinced that town planners should watch the effectiveness of on-street parking like a hawk, because general availability and cost can exert a profound influence on pedestrian counts, which in turn influences the type of retail that locates nearby, or whether retail chooses to locate there at all. In this case, the City of Park Ridge just slathered on the restrictions, and they all came to a head at this ridiculous spot. I wish the retail tenants—and their shoppers—the best. Caveat emptor.


The Urbanophile said...

One interesting thing about Chicago suburbs is that almost all of them ban overnight street parking. It is literally illegal to own a car and just park it on the street, since parking is banned 2a-6a almost everywhere. If you have an overnight guest who requires street parking, you can do it, but need to make special arrangements with the police department.

AmericanDirt said...

Thanks for mentioning this, Urbanophile. It's been awhile since I've lived in the Chicago area, but I do recall that signage everywhere. Interesting because many of these homes do not have driveways large enough to support more than four cars, so I guess homeowners have to make arrangements if they have a large crowd overnight. Do all the suburbs share the same rationale in forbidding parking from 2-6a, or do they each have different reasons for their restrictions?